The agency dubbed ‘the British FBI’ is to oversee all police probes into historic child sexual exploitation in Rotherham as part of a new investigation that could leave a Yorkshire force with a bill running into millions of pounds.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed today that it has started the first stage of its independent investigation into the abuse of some 1,400 vulnerable children in the South Yorkshire town between 1997 and 2013.
South Yorkshire chief constable David Crompton brought in the elite agency, created last year to tackle serious and organised crime, following the publication of the bombshell report by Alexis Jay in August.
NCA director Trevor Pearce, who is in charge of the investigation, said officers would be intelligence-gathering and reviewing existing material before a criminal probe into outstanding offenders begins next Spring.
As part of the probe, named Operation Stovewood, a major incident room between Sheffield and Rotherham will be up and running by January and will initially be staffed by 20 people.
During the probe’s first stage, NCA officers will oversee and review all current investigations into historic child sex grooming in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 being carried out by South Yorkshire Police, and may decide to take over some themselves.
Mr Pearce urged people to continue to provide information to specialist officers and investigators in South Yorkshire Police during the preliminary stage of his inquiry.
He said: “Until Spring 2015 anyone with information about current threats to children in South Yorkshire, matters currently being investigated by detectives in South Yorkshire, or in relation to non-recent allegations of CSE, should continue to contact South Yorkshire Police.
“After our initial work is complete, Operation Stovewood will be seeking information directly from the public and anyone else who can assist.”
As the crimes happened on its patch, South Yorkshire will foot the bill for the cost of the investigation, which is expected to employ a retired chief constable as its senior investigating officer.
The cost is not yet known but could run into millions of pounds, piling further pressure on a force already paying the multi-million pound legal fees of its ex-officers at the new Hillsborough inquests and facing dramatic budget cuts.
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire’s new police and crime commissioner, said he would apply to the Home Office for special grant funding to meet the costs of the probe.
Chief Constable David Crompton said: “All officers and staff in South Yorkshire will provide full support to the NCA in order that the independent investigation I have asked for can be taken forward efficiently and effectively.
“I welcome the additional capabilities, resources and independence that the NCA brings to drive forward enquiries into criminal matters raised in Alexis Jay’s report.”
Misconduct issues relating to police and social services staff, even if they are judged to be potentially criminal, are not part of the NCA probe, which is focusing on ‘non-familial’ child sex abuse.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is already investigating South Yorkshire police officers’ role and the Government has appointed Louise Casey to review the role of the council.
South Yorkshire Police said yesterday that a new 24-hour confidential helpline, run by charity NSPCC, has been launched to help the victims and survivors of sex abuse in Rotherham. Call 0800 7319256 or email rotherhamcsesupport@NSPCC.org.uk.